Fool on the hill or philosopher?
Singer-songwriter Serge Tonnar calls himself De Geck um Hiwwel, or Fool on the Hill, after the Beatles song. Apt then that he is performing his songs - including those he penned during the pandemic - for small audiences in the natural scenery of the Houfëls vantage point near Boulaide.
Tonnar sees himself as a “philosopher who watches life from a certain distance, and is sometimes considered crazy”.
His songs reflect the tension between reality and ideal. Humans have expectations about what society should look like, he says, ideals in which there is no room for poverty, wars and misery. “Of course, reality never matches those expectations. As an artist, I write about the distance and tension between the dream and reality, hoping to get us closer to the dream,” he said.
But Tonnar is also an activist and that means he sometimes loses his distance to get involved in real life. “My activism in culture and politics, my social projects and working with marginal groups like homeless people, refugees and those with disabilities is how I get involved in real life,” he said.
Two of Tonnar’s songs cover life during the pandemic. Muer ass ofgesot (tomorrow has been cancelled), talks about the experience of many artists over the past 15 months, of cancelled gigs and projects.
“Most people had to cancel a lot of things, and we became aware that there really is no tomorrow ... So, living in the moment, taking care today of the people and things you love has become more important,” he said.
“Performing in a natural setting is a statement too. Our relation to nature and the landscape of our own country has become more important during the lockdowns. Enjoying what is there right now and right in front of you, is a healing art and part of the concept of these concerts.”
The “idea was to organise an unplugged concert in the middle of nature," said Jeff Gangler, from the commune of Boulaide. Tourists now mainly come to the region for the nearby Upper Sûre Lake. But that as far back as the 1930s, Boulaide was a popular tourist destination in its own right.
The concerts are also a thank-you to the local population for their patience during the pandemic: “The danger of social isolation is very real and has increased during the pandemic. Through these small concerts we want to thank people for their exemplary behaviour and solidarity, but also help artists who did not have it, and still do not have it, easy at the moment.”
Tonnar started writing songs as soon as he knew three chords on the guitar – which was 35 years ago. Anybody listening to his music will understand why he says his inspiration comes from French, German and Anglo-Saxon music including Brel and Cabrel, Udo Lindenberg, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. “I felt the need to express myself through songs as a very young man," he said.
Working with homeless, refugees
Tonnar is also an actor, director and producer, who founded the artists collective MASKéNADA 25 years ago. The group produced several projects, including one written by Tonnar called “Letters from Luxembourg”, which saw residents and refugees take the stage. He’s also president of the association Mir wëllen iechs ons heemescht weisen, which translates as “let us show you our homeland”, a line from Tonnar's song De Feierwon.
Gangler, from the commune, explained that Tonnar has close links with Boulaide. “He’s very committed to the culture sector and his songs are well-known and appreciated by Luxembourgers for reflecting social issues. I have the greatest respect for his commitment to the integration of refugees into our society through his actions and work,” he said.
On New Year's Eve, Tonnar played a gig at his chalet, which is why Gangler approached him about the project, which consists of a series of nine concerts in July and the first half of August and a series of videos shot around Boulaide.
Get tickets or watch the video
The Geck um Hiwwel concerts take place at the Houfëls in Boulaide Friday to Saturday 30-31 July, 6-7 August and 13-14 August at 20:00 hrs and on Sunday 1, 8 and 15 August at 17:00 hrs. You can find more information or reserve tickets here. There is a seating limitation for each concert of 100 people, to minimise environmental impact and meet with current Covid regulations.
You can view the videos recordings of his songs here.